The speech itself was almost 90 minutes long, forward looking, from the nation’s 75th year, towards the century mark, in 2047
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on the occasion of India’s 76th Independence Day, as usual, from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi. This was his 9th Independence Day speech, remarkable for the energy and verve he displayed, dressed in a special tiranga turban. The number of times he said ‘new’ set the theme.
There he was, a national and international leader, already a legend in his own time, an unabashed showman, with a Baz Luhrman like flair for spectacle and pageantry, the black bomb proof SUVs, but a man of the common people with it all. He called India the mother of democracy. He called India an aspirational society.
A consummate outsider, ensconced firmly amongst the labyrinths of the national power elite. He is here, centre stage, to put right all its wrongs. The voting public believes him, much to the chagrin of his opponents. It cheers him on, his popularity undiminished through the thick and thin of over eight years as prime minister. None of his broken promises are held against him, his failures are accepted as debris left over from his best efforts. The polls never dip enough to give the other contenders any hope at all.
The speech itself was almost 90 minutes long, forward looking, from the nation’s 75th year, towards the century mark, in 2047. Indigenously developed Drone Blockers made an appearance for the first time amongst all the elaborate, if unobtrusive, security arrangements. Modi, for all the immense threat perception, has never stood behind bullet-proof glass at the Red Fort for any of his speeches.
The prime minister also made a point of walking up and down various red carpeted staircases, stopping to wave frequently at the crowds. There was a quiet display of fitness despite his over seventy years.
It was recently announced by Home Minister Amit Shah that Narendra Modi would indeed lead the BJP campaign for a third consecutive term in office in 2024. In this 75th year speech, Modi kept his gaze staring out at the quarter-century horizon, rather than any word on his plans for the next two years till the general election. To have him in the saddle, come 2024, is reassuring continuity, and the likelihood of his setting the country on its now very ambitious growth path.
At the end of it, in a beautifully symbolic action for the TV cameras, he walked through pathways in a seeming garden of colourfully dressed representatives of all the Indian States and Union Territories. They were arranged like the map of the nation, the amazing unity in diversity principle he mentioned in his speech, in an echo of Jawaharlal Nehru. Though, at the same time, Nehru had been left out of some prior government advertisements on freedom fighters, even as Veer Savarkar was pointedly added.
The prime minister walked among his people, greeting all participants, smiling, hands folded in a namaskar, shaking hands with some. Several burst into traditional dances from their states as he came to them.
The monsoon rain that fell intermittently through the day on the 14th of August redesignated the horrors of the partition day, was graciously absent on the 15th. A festooned and bedecked Red Fort, covered some of its stony severity. Amrit Utsov buntings and banners, complete with a pair of mechanical elephants at the entrance to the Lahori Gate, underlined the changes wrought under Modi. He is a very positive and unabashed sort of leader.
The rain was absent as the prime minister unfurled the national flag and delivered his speech, watched by government ministers, brass from the armed forces, members of the opposition, a large number of ambassadors, children from the NCC. It was a kind of benediction that no weather came to ruin the show. The foreign nations monitoring, judging from the tone and tenor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech, will realise India is declaring it cannot be stopped. Interfering with its national narrative, putting hurdles in its path, will be brushed aside. Beginnings, as they know, have already been made.
The remarks were light this time on the traditional cataloguing of the government’s achievements. Instead, there was a firm and visionary focus on the next 25 years. The independent Republic of India will be 100 then. It will become a developed nation, said the prime minister.
He did not, in his speech spell any of this out, but as has been oft repeated, India will be ranked at No. 3 in the world, only behind America and China per present projections, but could do even better, based on how its pans out for the other two.
The economy itself will run into more than $10 trillion in GDP, perhaps even rise to $30 trillion. This will amply service the needs of a gargantuan population, the highest in the world. The growth in the number of companies with $1 billion in turnover has spread from IT into manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. It is the highest such growth rate in the world over the last decade. India has over 140 billionaires now, but with the kind of growth envisaged, the per capita income, for the last man that concerned Mahatma Gandhi, referenced by Modi, will also quadruple. With India’s purchase power parity (PPP) advantages, the effects will be dramatic.
Even the revamping of traditional sectors such as textiles holds enormous promise, as does the innovation of the start-up universe, the largest in the world. Ethanol in petrol, derived from surplus sugar cane, is already saving billions in import costs of fuel at 10 per cent addition. Soon it will double to 20 per cent. India is doing well at reducing its carbon footprint as promised, and its generation of clean energy such as solar power is proceeding apace.
This 75th year marks the triumph over the tribulations of colonialism and a bloody partition. It marks the success achieved, and indeed, the interminable challenges overcome, in multiple fields. We are no longer held back by issues of basic day-to-day needs.
But now, said the prime minister, to paraphrase his intent, we need to change gears to get the main job done that will catapult this nation to the full realisation of its potential.
He laid out a set of five vows, abstractions, that his concrete plans will rapidly turn into reality. Still, the people on board with such transformative government initiatives are an infinite force multiplier.
We cannot tolerate blatant, audacious corruption, he said. We have to minimise family rule in political parties, a philosophy that has spread into other fields too. Prime Minister Modi said this towards the end of his speech, sending a clear message. This, of course, will probably be the most debated aspect of his speech, because it impinges on the very basis of many political entities. Quite a few quickly accused the prime minister of turning a blind eye on corruption in the BJP itself.
Nevertheless, in a situation where the BJP/NDA is projected to come in for a third term in power, that too with a majority, this aspect of nepotism and corruption is bone-chilling. It questions the legitimacy and threatens the survival of most of the opposition. Of course, the idea plays extremely well with the voting public, fed up with much of the political class and their closed club approach to pelf and power. There is little space for outside entrants without money, power, or networks. Merit however, is valued in the BJP.
Ushering in the future however will involve a sea change in public attitudes. We have to unleash Nari Shakti said the prime minister. The prime minister spoke in terms of respect for women, but it is a fact that only 20 per cent of the women in India are participants in the workforce.
Prime Minister Modi, skilled at involving the public at large in his initiatives, exhorted the people of India to uproot the remaining vestiges of colonialism and be proud of our heritage. He spoke side by side of 5G, of start-ups, of research and development, technological advancements, of aatmanirbharta. Of not being dependent in strategic issues on any other nation or force. He did not mention semiconductors, but it is emblematic of the new thrust areas.
Modi asked the people to shed the evils of communalism, divisiveness, and see through the wiles of our enemies. He called for an abolition of the slave mindset that constantly sought Western approval. After all, it is America that considers India to be an indispensable strategic partner now, though Modi did not say so here.
Most of all, internally and externally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that nothing will deter India from attaining its objectives now. Its time, as the saying goes, has come.
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator. Views expressed are personal.
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